Beginning with the 2007 film, Transformers, released just in time for the Iraq War "surge," director Michael Bay launched a series of films that rebooted the popular 1980s cartoon franchise for 21st-century, live-action consumption.
Bay's films, which largely serve as de facto recruitment videos for the Department of Defense as well as ads for Chevrolet cars, have "memed" the Transformers in the gridded structures of post-millennial consciousness.
Like Harry Potter, Pokémon and (to a certain extent) Game of Thrones, Transformers has helped to structure the overall weltanschauung of millennials, affecting their choice of career, car, spouse and even religion. Over the past 13 years, there has been no shortage of active military personnel and recently minted veterans driving vehicles adorned with either Autobot or Decepticon stickers, vehicles which themselves appear capable of robotic transformation.
For many Transformers fans, the enormous robots have developed an almost divine status. Indeed, one of the most iconic images from Michael Bay's live-action Transformers series (as well as the earlier 1980s films and comics) is that of a giant robot standing near or cradling a human adult or child in the midst of the carnage of either an active or recently quieted futuristic battlefield.
The Transformers mythos itself lends to a (sacrilegious) religious reading of the series. The mythos of the Transformers story revolves around superhuman beings who fall from the sky and who battle for control over the earth and wider galaxy. Thus — to use an overused word — the story may be viewed as a "Gnostic" or Manichean fable of two equally powerful forces of good and evil fighting for spiritual supremacy.
The 1986 feature-length cartoon is especially Gnostic: The "god" figure, Unicron, is a seeming all-powerful planet that is eating its way through the universe. His reign of terror is overthrown by a "good" Autobot, Ultra Magnus, who wields the mystic power of the Matrix and saves the universe by defeating the powerful "all father."
Setting aside its weird Gnostic theology, Transformers, like much of the powerful and successful pop culture, speaks to a deep human need. We all desire the help of heavenly protectors more powerful than us who can aid us in this valley of tears.
At the same time, postmillennial men and women, like the postmoderns and the moderns before them, despise the idea of having an all-powerful God who sets the metaphysical and moral rules and structure of the universe. Thus, in addition to the Transformer mythos, there is no end to New Age groups promoting angel communication and worship (nota bene: the angels with whom one gains contact in these groups are not good angels).
As Catholics, however, we have a long tradition of veneration of holy angels and archangels, who, in our current apocalyptic climate, are needed now more than ever. The three canonical archangels are, of course, St. Michael, St. Raphael and St. Gabriel.
All three play a key role in salvation history, but let us focus on an underappreciated and underrepresented archangel who may have a key role to play in what St. Lucy, a Fatima seer, called the "final battle" between Our Lady and Satan over marriage and the family. Although some have identified him as the "Angel of the Lord" who appears in John 5:4, St. Raphael is most famous for his appearance in the book of Tobit, a book that may have real significance for us in the defense of marriage and family life today.
The book of Tobit begins with the story of the elder Tobias, who, echoing the misfortunes of Job, is struck with blindness and reduced to poverty. Like Job, Tobias prays to God for help, only to be mocked by those around him. While Tobias suffers poverty and blindness, his relative, Sara, is likewise burdened by a demon who kills her potential husbands on the wedding night. Like Tobias, Sara prays to God for help and is scorned by many around her.
In His divine wisdom and mercy, however, God sends the angel Raphael to help both of them. It should be noted here that both Tobias and Sara were noted for their piety, and Tobias was especially known for his acts of charity, which drew the attention and favor of the Divine Majesty.
Thinking he is nearing death, Tobias sends his son, the younger Tobias, to the city of Rages, in which Sara lived, to collect a debt. Along the way, the younger Tobias, who is joined on his journey by his loyal dog, is met by a mysterious man, whom he later learns to be the angel Raphael. Tobias catches a fish on his journey and Raphael, who tells Tobias that his name is Azarias (which means "help of God" in Hebrew) informs Tobias that he should remove the heart, gall and liver of the fish to be used later as medicine.
Upon reaching Rages, Raphael takes Tobias to Sara's house and announces that he is to marry her. In order to drive out the demon who is attacking Sara and her potential husbands, Raphael has Tobias burn the liver of the fish, which does, in fact, drive the demon out to Egypt, where the angel Raphael binds him.
It is interesting to note that St. John of the Cross comments on the innards of the fish representing, in this case, purification of the soul. He also notes that those grooms whom the demon had killed were drawn to Sara by lust, not by a chaste love.
Upon returning home to his joyous parents, Tobias utilized the fish's liver to cure his father, the elder Tobias, of blindness. It is possible that this story may have profound significance in our own day. Not only does it tell of the tremendous helpfulness of St. Raphael, it also notes the importance of charity and purity of heart — especially for those preparing to enter marriage.
We are told in Our Lady's message of Fatima that the battle over marriage and family will be won by her Immaculate Heart. It is, therefore, our duty as Catholics to conform our hearts to Our Lady's Immaculate Heart and Our Lord's Sacred Heart through penance, acts of charity and conformity to the will of God.
Let us pray to the archangels Raphael, Gabriel and Michael (who also has a special role in the Fatima message) for the strengthening of our families and marriages through the aid of the Immaculate and Sacred Hearts — devotion to which will ultimately lead to peace in our homes and lives.
In the traditional calendar, St. Raphael's feast is on Oct. 24; in the new calendar, it is on Sept. 29. There is a novena and even a litany to St. Raphael, as well as an interesting booklet available from Tan Books.